Roswell Rudd & Duck Baker: Live

The trombone and acoustic-guitar duo make empathetic conversation over Monk, Herbie Nichols and Buddy Bolden's Blues


Some years ago, American finger-style guitarist Duck Baker was a regular visitor to London and would find his way to Collets Folk & Blues Shop. An engaging and inquisitive individual, he would wander through to the jazz department, chat and show great interest and knowledge in the music, from its earliest days to contemporary styles.

It’s therefore no great surprise that he recorded, nearly 20 years ago now, with the trombonist Roswell Rudd, known for his wide associations, from early days with Dixieland outfit Eli’s Chosen Few, through his work with Shepp, Tchicai, etc to world music with Sardinian vocal group Gruppo Rubanu and the music of Mali. The two also share a liking for Herbie Nichols, with whom Rudd worked in the early 60s and did several projects on subsequently, Baker recording an album of his music (see the JJ review of Spinning Song/Plays The Music Of Herbie Nichols.

Baker’s sleeve notes tell how they got together and the result, as you can hear, reveals a landscape of improvisation and sound which shows mutual respect, close interaction and understanding, touching on shared reference points, despite, as Baker writes, they wound up playing things far removed from their normal vocabulary, “enormously challenging and exhilarating”.

From the first track, The Happenings, the blues-tinged approach of Baker is evident, and this continues into Jelly Roll Morton’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues, Rudd’s tailgate trombone slurring and sliding. A Bouquet For JJ is presumably Rudd’s tribute to Johnson, an unaccompanied homage, whilst both musicians have no compunction in throwing in a phrase or two on Melancholy People; Laura and Sweet Georgia Brown make brief appearances, the intertwined playing finally moving into My Melancholy Baby.

Three Monk numbers are included, the players sharing duties in taking the melody or infilling, as seen in Bemsha Swing where Baker’s introduction lays it down whilst Rudd adopts a walking bass line, before roles are reversed. Space is used carefully and clearly, as it should be in Monk compositions.

Whether Going West has any connection to the Grant Green album isn’t specified, but it’s surely no coincidence that there is a similar feel as it strays into a more folksy, even cowboy territory. Shades of Rollins’ Way Out West?

Show starts out as if going into the Trolley Song before single-note runs and broad sweeps of the guitar readily fill spaces; growling or fluttering horn also helps create texture. Recognisable quotes are thrown in, as they are on Church, though none is belaboured and it comes across as musical conversation. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The Happenings; Buddy Bolden’s Blues; A Bouquet For JJ; Melancholy People; Well, You Needn’t; Bemsha Swing; Going West; Light Blue; Show; Church (62.24)
Roswell Rudd (tb); Duck Baker (g). Albuquerque, 28 March 2004; New York, 5 January 2002.
Dot Time DT8020